Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Polly Toynbee's Elementary Mistake of the Day

Polly Toynbee writes in today's Guardian:
Rebalancing £2bn in child tax credits will help redress the worst effects of the VAT rise for the poorest and lifting the lowest-paid out of income tax will help all on the basic rate, but it does nothing for the 62% of adults who earn too little to pay tax.
Sixty-two per cent of adults don't earn enough to pay tax? It doesn't sound very likely.

A little investigation suggests that Toynbee has been reading the Institute for Fiscal Studies Election Briefing Note 13 "Taxes and Benefits: The Parties' Plans". Turn to page 34 of this and you will find the sentence:
"In 2009–10, only 62% of the adult population had a high enough income to pay income tax."
So it's not that 62 per cent of people don't pay tax, it's that 62 per cent do pay tax.
How out of touch with the lives of ordinary people do you have to be to make a mistake like that and not spot it? It hardly encourages you to have faith in Toynbee's judgement as a columnist.
You think someone at the Guardian would have spotted it though.


Terry Gilbert said...

Polly goes over the top in her pro-Labour rantings - she won't easily forgive the Editor for backing us at the election.

But she is right about the regressive nature of VAT, which far too many Liberal Democrats do not seem to appreciate. What little good our ministers managed to sneak past Gideon is dwarfed by the impact of this swinging hike in a tax which has proportionately three times as high an impact on the poorest fifth of the population as it does on the wealthiest fifth.

Anonymous said...

It's not just a matter of being out of touch; most journalists give every impression of being chronically innumerate.

The Graun, in particular, has a disconcerting predeliction for confusing 'million' and 'billion'.

Anonymous said...


VAT is regressive, but less regressive than the main alternative - raising income tax - and considerably less regressive than council tax, which has been frozen.

Mark said...

Give Polly her due, she probably knows more than most journos about how 'real' people livg - her book about poverty, and the articles she's written about the Clapham Park Estate do suggest some really understanding what happens at or near the poverty line.

Talking of the Grauniad, Gerald Kaufman's letters are pretty good!